Wednesday, November 4, 2009

In Memory of Dorothy - Cameroon, Africa

Chimpanzees appear to console one another as Dorothy is carried to her final resting place in a wheelbarrow

United in what appears to be deep and profound grief, a phalanx of more than a dozen chimpanzees stood in silence watching from behind the wire of their enclosure as the body of one of their own was wheeled past.

This extraordinary scene took place recently at the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in Cameroon, West Africa.

When a chimp called Dorothy, who was in her late 40s, died of heart failure, her fellow apes seemed to be stricken by sorrow.

As they wrapped their arms around each other in a gesture of solidarity, Dorothy's female keeper gently settled her into the wheelbarrow

Locals from the village serve as 'care-givers' to the chimps - something hugely needed by the animals who are all orphans as their mothers were killed for the illegal bush meat trade.

Hunters captured them as young babies, often still clinging to their mother's bodies, to sell as pets.

Until recently, describing scenes like this in terms of human emotions such as 'grief' would have been dismissed by scientists as naive anthropomorphising. (treating a nonhuman thing as human)

But a growing body of evidence suggests that 'higher' emotions - such as grieving for a loved one after death, and even a deep understanding of what death is - may not just be the preserve of our species.

Chimpanzees - as you can see in the November issue of National Geographic magazine, on sale now - and the closely related Bonobos maintain hugely complex social networks, largely held together by sex and grooming.

They have often been observed apparently grieving for lost family and tribe members by entering a period of quiet mourning after a death, showing subdued emotions and behavior.

From National Geographic - November 2009


If you look closely you can see that Dorothy's loved ones have their arms around each other in an expression of comfort. Who could doubt that animals have no feelings or emotions.
Our beautiful, late departed, German Shepherd - Coltrane, had obvious feelings ranging from happiness, sadness, excitement and at times jealousy if he felt than another was getting more attention than him.
Anthropomorphising is not being naive but understanding that all of nature's creatures have value and should be treated with compassion.
Thanks to National Geographic for this beautiful example of this.

1 comment:

troutbirder said...

Elephants have similar behavior. Still... I would probably have used the "anthro..." word (except I couldn't spell it :). Now after reading the whole post I'm modifying my opinion. Thanks so very much for this wonderful post. Even an old dog such as me can learn new tricks!